Following the draw that was played out in the one-off Ashes Test match at the County Ground in Taunton, Australia faced a fair bit of criticism for their timid approach through the match. After all the talk of wanting to win and positive cricket being part of the team ‘culture’, the visitors— as was their right— chose to take the safe route and retain the Ashes.
“We came in (to the Test match) with a six point lead, and I guess when you have to make decisions at the end of the game, we sort of made a decision based on what was best for us,” said Meg Lanning of her side’s choice not to declare and have a crack at England with the ball.
The infrequency of women’s Test matches— with one played every two years between Australia and England and none between the other nations since 2014— means that every time the women take the field in whites, they must find a way to make a spectacle of the game. It is an unfair demand to make, but it is the sad reality of the state of women’s cricket.
As Matthew Mott, Australia’s head coach, stated in his post-match press conference, his side did not want to give England a sniff at getting back into the series. Instead of playing to the galleries, they chose the more conservative route. After a stunning performance in the ODI-leg of the series, Mott said his team had earned the opportunity to play out the last day the way they though best.
“I don’t think England deserved the right to win the game from where they were in the game today,” said Matthew Mott soon after play on Sunday (July 21).
“We are not a charity. We don’t give up the result that easily. We’ve won the first three ODIs and we deserve the opportunity to bat it out.”
“I think there was plenty of effort over the last few days to put ourselves in a position to win. Clearly the wicket didn’t deteriorate as much as we would’ve expected. I think that rain delay in the middle of the game held it together. We thought it was a huge advantage to bat first and potentially get England batting last on that wicket, so that’s why we batted long in the first innings. The idea was to bat well and bat once and try and put them under pressure. The only regret from our point of view was not batting longer in the first innings (and) potentially putting it beyond reach so they couldn’t get the follow on.”
Having lost two entire sessions to rain on the second day, Australia continued to bat into day three, taking their total from 341 for 5 to 420 for 8 declared. At the end of day three they had reduced England to 199 for 6, still needing 72 runs to avoid the follow-on. Heading into the final day, Australia looked to be in the driver’s seat, but Natalie Sciver (88) and Laura Marsh (28) managed to get England past the magic score and snuff out chances of an Australia win.
“I thought England batted really well. They came out with good intent and made that hard for us. I think all the way through we weighed up the best way to win the game and it just got down unfortunately to not enough overs being there to be able to bowl them out in the last day. As you saw our batters didn’t have too many troubles on that wicket. It was playing pretty well today and we needed a little bit more in the wicket to roll the dice,” admitted Mott.
While many believe Australia should have dangled a carrot and declared after tea to give England a sniff, Mott said, that realistically, his bowlers were unlikely to have been able to dismiss the hosts in 40 overs.
“We probably worked on the math that we needed at least 70 overs to get them out. I think if we did get a couple of early wickets, bunkering down on that wicket would’ve been okay. We probably could’ve rolled the dice at the end there, but what are we going to get out of it apart from being out in the field for an hour and a half, two hours? I don’t think a result was really possible.”
“I think we put our eggs in one basket—to knock them over before the follow-on. We sort of hypothesised a few different ideas on what would happen, but basically the math wasn’t working out to get enough overs in to bowl them out, and that’s what it came down to. We thought of every possible scenario and the gut feel from all the leadership group at the end was that we just didn’t have enough time. There was always a responsibility to play good cricket.
All of Australia’s players talked about playing aggressive cricket, ‘wanting to win’ and a positive style being the ‘Australian way’, however, through the Test match, there was very little intent on display from both sides. On the one hand, there was Australia’s refusal to declare earlier in both innings, and on the other, was England’s ultra-defensive approach on the third evening that effectively ended their chances of winning.
“I think the way we play the game is very aggressive from the outset,” said Mott. “Unfortunately probably England batting for 110 overs just to pass the follow-on and then the rain delay took too many overs out the game.”
“Given the context of the Test match and given that we held all the aces I think England really needed to come out and score quicker in that first innings and take the game on. That might’ve changed the position that we were in. Unfortunately we (were) backed into a corner. There just wasn’t enough overs on a pretty good wicket. I don’t think the wicket changed at all from day one. I think it spun more on day one than it did today. We ran out of time basically, and maybe it is an advertisement for 5-day Test matches in women’s cricket.”
Their tactics through the Test match have meant Australia retained the Ashes having secured eight points in the series. England are effectively out of the running, but they can still manage to tie the series if they win the remaining three T20Is.
The visitors are aware of the danger Heather Knight’s team pose in the shortest format. Having ties the previous series at 8-8, Australia are keen to right those wrongs this time around.
“I think England are a very good team. As I said, they are the ODI World Champions. They quite rightfully are very strong no.2 team at the moment. I think the longer the game goes on, I think in Test cricket we’d obviously feel like we got their measure in terms of if we were able to play a little bit more of it. I think when it comes back to T20 the sides get a lot closer and there’s not that gap there. So we’ll have to be ready to go, come Chelmsford.”